Jaime Gonzales, an avid reader of this column from Harker Heights, phoned me recently. He explained how he and his two friends, Ruben Cavazos and Jose Chapa, routinely fished on Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir but did not enjoy the kind of success I regularly report my clients enjoying while fishing that body of water. The trio desired to book a trip with me to see if they might learn a thing or two to help them in their own angling pursuits.
Tuesday, the day I had set aside for this trip, brought with it ideal weather conditions — breezes from the west southwest beginning around 8:15 a.m., with some light cloud cover.
To say Stillhouse treated these three military retirees well would be an understatement. Gonzales, a retired Air Force major, Chapa, a retired Army command sergeant major, and Cavazos, a retired Army sergeant first class, put a total of 153 fish in the boat during their four-hour morning trip. The trio’s mixed bag consisted of largemouth bass, freshwater drum and over 130 white bass, with many of these exceeding 13 inches, and all in excellent physical condition. When all was said and done, they had certainly learned a thing or two to make them better anglers in their own future pursuits.
Earlier in the week, 13-year- old Charley Elgin and his sister, 9-year- old Addison Tinkelenberg, also enjoyed some fast-paced white bass fishing. These two Fort Hood youth welcomed their father, Army Spc. Sean Tinkelenberg, home from a deployment to Afghanistan the Wednesday before this trip took place.
The free fishing trip, sponsored by the Austin Fly Fishers as part of their Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun (SKIFF) program, allowed Tinkelenberg and his wife a few hours without the kids to set up a bowling birthday party in celebration of Addison’s ninth birthday at the Fort Hood bowling alley.
During this trip, Addison caught an outsized white bass measuring 15.75 inches — a truly large specimen for this species of fish.
Stillhouse has been producing, and will continue to produce, both quality fish and great quantities of them, thanks to yet another balmy, unseasonably warm week. Such warm weather keeps these cold-blooded creatures’ metabolism high and prevents a die-off of their primary food source, the threadfin shad.
Clients on both trips fished in much the same way. All presented small white jigging spoons in the lower half of the water column where these migrating fish were holding in great numbers as they slowly made their way up the Lampasas River to spawn. These 3/8-oz. jigging spoons, nicknamed “slabs,” closely match the size and profile of the threadfin shad on which the white bass are now feeding.
Attaching a Hazy Eye Stinger hook to the line tie on the slab dramatically increased hookups, as did a slow, methodical movement of the bait in and around these congregated fish.
Although observing gulls and terns is a way to initially locate feeding fish, a properly set sonar unit is now essential to staying in contact with these fish as they have demonstrated a tendency to rise up high in the water column after a few individuals in the school have been caught and reeled to the surface.
Either colored sonar, down-looking sonar (like Humminbird Down Imaging or Lowrance StructureScan) or a combination of these technologies are necessary to determine where in the water column fish are located so baits can be precisely presented at their level. A self-positioning, GPS-equipped trolling motor is also helpful in maintaining position over such suspended fish. When I activate the Spot Lock button on my trolling motor, my clients’ lines all hang vertically and parallel to each other without tangling, even in winds exceeding 18 mph.
On average, white bass on Stillhouse are of greater size than those caught on Belton Lake. For this reason, I typically fish Stillhouse through the end of March, just prior to the start of the threadfin shad spawn on Belton Lake and the excellent hybrid striped bass fishing that corresponds with it.